There are an estimated 3 million Hindus in America. This makes Hinduism America’s fourth largest religion without even counting the millions of Americans who resonate with significant Hindu teachings and practices like religious pluralism, reincarnation, yoga, and ayurveda.
Hindu Americans are parents and teachers, doctors and lawyers, artists and lawmakers, cab drivers and small business owners, entrepreneurs and engineers.
They’re your colleagues. They’re your neighbors. They’re your community.
But most surveys show that the general public knows little about Hindus and Hinduism.
Learn about Hindu Americans — who we are, what we believe, what inspires us about Hindu teachings, and how we contribute to our local communities.
If you’re a Hindu American, share your story and what inspires you about Hinduism using the link at the bottom of this page.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT HINDUISM
What is Hinduism?
Hinduism is the world’s oldest living religion and the world’s third largest, with just over 1 billion adherents. It is a richly diverse family of philosophies, traditions, and practices, that have been followed for thousands of years. Its core teachings include:
- Accepting that there are multiple paths to, perspectives on, and ways to worship the one all-pervasive Divine
- Believing in an underlying unity of all existence, and in karma or the law of cause and effect, samsara or reincarnation, and dharma or right living
- Understanding that the ultimate goal of life is liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth (moksha)
- Viewing the Vedas and other Hindu scripture as sacred and sources of Truth
How many Hindus live in the United States?
The most recent demographic data shows that Hindus make up approximately 1% of the US population. This figure does not account for the millions of people whose religiosity, metaphysical beliefs, and spiritual practices have been influenced by Hinduism and practices such as yoga and meditation. Hindus live in every state, but the San Francisco Bay Area of California and New Jersey stand out as particular population centers for Hindus. The percentage of Hindus in these areas is double to triple the national percentage. Additionally, there are significant populations of Hindus in Texas, Florida, the Chicagoland area, and Southern California.
Do you have to be Indian to be Hindu?
Hinduism is a global religion with Hindus living on every continent. While the majority of Hindus trace their heritage to the Indian subcontinent, today Hinduism is no longer confined to people of Indian descent. Just as Buddhism has been embraced by cultures across the world, in the 21st century people from all backgrounds have embraced Hindu teachings and practices. There is nothing in Hindu sacred texts that indicate any ethnic and nationality requirement to identify as Hindu.
Historically Hinduism spread beyond the Indian subcontinent into what is now Afghanistan, parts of Central Asia, and Southeast Asia, and Indonesia through trade. Today the Indonesian island of Bali remains as the most prominent example of non-Indian Hinduism. In the 21st century, there are people of European, Hispanic, African, and East Asia origin who have embraced Hindu beliefs and practices.
What is Hinduism’s worldview?
Two of Hinduism’s fundamental teachings are the oneness of existence and pluralism. All beings, from the smallest organism to man, are considered manifestations of the Divine or reflections of the Divine’s qualities. Additionally, every being, with their varying likes and dislikes, their unique personalities, and their different cultures, are understood to not only connect with one another in their own unique ways, but connect with the Divine in their own individual ways, thus establishing an ethos of pluralism. Read more.
What is the Hindu concept of God?
Most Hindus believe in one, all pervasive formless Divine Reality. This Divinity is worshipped in different manifest forms or deities (deva or devi), according to family tradition and/or personal preference. Read more.
Are there different denominations of Hinduism?
Hinduism is not divided by denomination per se, but by other categories. Most Hindus belong to one of four major deity traditions: Shaivas, Shaktas, Vaishnavas, and Smartas. While all traditions share many beliefs and practices, the central deity worshipped, as well as certain philosophical tenets, differ. Read more.
What are the sacred texts of Hinduism?
Hindu scripture is an extensive collection of ancient religious writings which expound upon eternal Truths that have been revealed by God or realized by the ancient sages and enlightened wise men. These scriptures include the Vedas, the Agamas, the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and many other philosophical and sectarian texts. Important to note also is that the words of a living, enlightened teacher are as valid as the words of scripture. Read more.
What is a guru and why are they important?
When used in referring to a religious or spiritual teacher, a guru is one who not only has deep knowledge that can lead to moksha (liberation or enlightenment), but also has direct experience of Divine vision and grace which they have assimilated into their way of being. A guru guides their students on a spiritual path, which requires both devotion and commitment to the guru’s teachings and advice, yet also requires independent contemplation and discernment. Read more.
How do Hindus worship?
Prayer is integral to Hindu practice. Many Hindus follow set, obligatory guidelines in terms of specificity of prayers as well as timing, frequency and length while others may be more fluid and individualized in their practice. One is not necessarily guaranteed moksha or liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth upon the performance of certain types or amounts of prayer, nor is anyone condemned for lack of prayer, rather progress towards moksha is proportional to spiritual effort. Hindus may pray at a personal, home altar which is usually placed in a room or space dedicated for worship; at a temple; or wherever they may be (and without a altar). Read more.
Do Hindus worship idols?
Given its connotations of ‘false god’ in many Western religions, the use of the word ‘idol’ to refer to the representations Hindus use in worshiping God is considered inaccurate by Hindus themselves. The correct term in Sanskrit is murti and refers to a powerful visual tool for contemplating the nature of God. Rather than worshiping a murti as God, Hindus use these divine images as focal points designed to be aids in prayer and meditation. Read more.
What are the major Hindu holidays?
Holidays and ways of celebrating those holidays are as richly diverse as the family of traditions called Hinduism. Hindu holidays commemorate a particular deity, season, or event in history. Often times the same holiday may celebrate several different events or attributes of a variety of manifestations of the Divine (God). Hindu holidays don’t necessarily fall on a specific day each year as the Hindu calendar is lunar. Major holidays include: Shivaratri, Holi, Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri, and Diwali. Read more.
Do Hindus have a conception of an afterlife?
Hindus believe that the soul is immortal and evolves by experiencing varied lives through the process wherein the soul reincarnates into different physical bodies through cycles of birth and death. This cycle is called samsara. The ultimate aim of Hindus is for the soul to attain freedom from this continuous cycle of birth and rebirth and discover its divine origin. Hindus do not have a concept of heaven or hell, as a place of eternal glory or damnation, as is found in Western religions.
What is karma?
Karma is the universal law of cause and effect. The critical and subtler understanding of karma is that each action has a reaction and that this cycle is endless. Karma is frequently misinterpreted in popular culture as meaning luck, fate, or destiny over which one has no control. Read more.
What is the status of women in Hinduism?
One of the most profound attributes of Hindu theology is the recognition and worship of the God as feminine. In fact, Hinduism is the only major religion today which has always worshipped God in female form and continues to do so. It is true that one may find passages that portray women negatively in some Hindu texts, just as in the scripture of every other religious tradition. However, the Vedas are replete with hymns extolling the equality of men and women in the spiritual, social and educational realms. Read more.
What is the position of Hinduism on homosexuality?
Hinduism’s most important scriptures don’t address sexual orientation. They focus instead on how every being is an eternal soul incarnate and that the ultimate goal of life is freedom from the cycle of birth and death (moksha). Thus there is no bar on achieving moksha based on sexual orientation or gender in these scriptures. Criminality of homosexuality in India originates only in colonial period of the British Raj, reflecting then contemporary Victorian ideas of human sexuality, rather than Hindu ones. Read more.
Is there a conflict between Hinduism and other religions?
Hinduism is a pluralistic, non-proselytizing faith. It professes that there are multiple paths to relating to the Divine. Anyone is free to embrace Hinduism or choose another path. Where conflict arises is when a person is forcefully coerced from following their freely chosen path — either by overt violence or conditioning of economic or social assistance on conversion. These actions are abhorrent to most Hindus, no matter who is perpetrating them, and have sometimes resulted in communal tensions and violence.
TOP MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT HINDUISM
Hinduism is inherently discriminatory
Both caste-based discrimination and gender inequity are social realities throughout South Asia and across communities of all religious backgrounds. Placing the blame for this on Hindu teachings is erroneous.
The word ‘caste’ is derived from the Portuguese casta, for lineage, breed, or race. There is no exact equivalent term for ‘caste’ in Indian languages or society, but what does exist is the dual concept of varna and jāti. In modern India, the term ‘caste’ is primarily understood to mean jāti rather than varna, and exists in all religious communities in the Indian subcontinent. There are four varna or personality types and thousands of jāti or occupation-based communities. Read more.
Hinduism isn’t one religion
Hinduism’s staggering diversity often leads to a false conclusion that it is not one religion. This is an inaccurate understanding and ignores both the inherent pluralism of Hinduism and the core philosophical concepts that bind the breadth of teachings and practices. One can imagine a multi-gemmed necklace which is strung on one thread that sustains different beads. This thread represents concepts such as an acceptance of multiple paths to, perspectives on, and ways to worship the one all-pervasive Divine; belief in an underlying unity of all existence, and in karma or the law of cause and effect, samsara or reincarnation, and dharma or right living; and an understanding that the ultimate goal of life is liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth (moksha). Read more.
Hindus are all vegetarian
In India, more than 30% of all Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs are vegetarian because of the fundamental belief in nonviolence, or in Sanskrit, ahimsa. There are significant regional variations in the percentage of people eating a vegetarian diet, with the highest numbers being in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, and Haryana. The perception that vegetarianism is the norm for Hindus can be traced to the praise for not killing animals for food in Hindu scripture, as well as that the percentage of vegetarians in India is approximately three times higher than in any other country.
Hindus worship cows
Although Hindus respect and honor the cow, they do not worship the cow in the same sense in which they worship the Divine. Hindus considers all living things to be sacred, an attitude reflected in reverence for the cow. Read more.
HINDU CONTRIBUTIONS TO WORLD CULTURE
Yoga and meditation
These are, perhaps, the most widely-recognized spiritual contributions of Hinduism to humanity. Hatha Yoga, the widely practiced system of cleansing exercises, is only one of the Yoga disciplines that encourage spiritual, physical and intellectual advancement. Meditation, a process that calms and focuses the psyche, is integral to yogic practice and recognized with yoga for its salutary effects on personal well-being. Read more.
The world’s first university, in Takshashila in 700 BCE
The concept of zero (200 CE); the modern numerical and decimal system (300 BCE); area of a triangle (476 CE); quadratic equation (991 CE).
Concept of planets in the solar system circling the sun (500 CE); Earth as round, rotating on axis and gravity as a force of attraction by the earth (500 CE).
Ayurveda, a system of allopathic and holistic medicine, originated 1000 BCE. Detailed text called the Charaka Samhita includes anatomy, physiology and various treatments using various plants, fruits and herbs.
Sports and games
Chess, carom, parcheesi, Snakes and Ladders.
Highly sophisticated Indian classical music finds its origins in the Sama Veda, one of the four original Vedas. The four classical dance forms of India find their origins and inspirations in Hindu religious tradition.